Dietrich Buxtehude (c. 1637 - May 9, 1707) was a Danish organist and composer of church, chamber and organ music, and, along with Heinrich Schütz, possibly the most influential composer of his time.
His early youth and birthplace remain a mystery. Most scholars recognize that he studied music with his father. Being the organist at Helsingbor (c.1638-41) and at Helsingor (c. 1642-71) his father was most likely qualified to teach and have a great influence on him. Buxtehude moved to Lubeck in 1688 and became organist of St. Mary's Church. In Lubeck he rose to such fame that musicians from northern Germany came to the city to meet the composer and attend his concerts. He was visited by George Frideric Handel in 1703 and by Johann Sebastian Bach in 1705. According to legend Bach, walked more than 200 miles to meet him. Bach did study with Buxtehude for several months in 1705 and 1706. Both composers wanted to follow Buxtehude at St. Mary's, but neither one wanted to marry his daughter as that was a condition for the position.
As part of his duties Buxtehude composed for public occasions, as well as, funerals and marriages in the city. His compositions include vocal, chamber and instrumental music, much of which was not discovered until the twentieth century.
His best and most important compositions are those for organ. They consist of preludes, fugues, toccatas, chaconnes, music from chorales, and the passacaglia which influenced Bach's own Passacaglia in C Minor. The organ preludes are short and usually unlike Bach's in having no theme in common with the fugues. Just about all of the harpsichord pieces have been lost.
Buxtehude's vocal compositions are mainly for church cantatas of various forms and a large number of them have survived. They are simple compositions based on sacred verse and show no decorative form that followed in Bach's versions. He was famous for his Abendmusiken which were concerts at St. Mary's consisting of vocal and instrumental music performed five Sundays before Christmas. It is possible some of the cantatas were written for those concerts. Buxtehude started the Abendmusiken in 1673 and they remained into the 19th century. Lubeck was very proud of these concerts. ~Mike Parmer (8/2003)